When I first heard that Wizards was going to create a cross-brand product between MTG and D&D, I was curious about what they would do with it. Ravnica, when it was announced, had me pretty excited as it was my absolute favorite MTG setting. Now that I’ve had a chance to actually own it, read it and digest it, I think it may just be the best setting book published. Its simply awesome. Lets take a look at it, shall we?
A Bold Statement
Saying that this book is my favorite of all D&D is pretty powerful. I’ve played since ’94 through 5 editions (AD&D, 2nd Edition, 3.5, 4e and 5th) and While I’ve not read or bought every supplement or book they wrote, I have perused or consumed a strong quantity. Giving this book high accolades isn’t something I do without comparison. Why is it my favorite book? There are a few reasons.
An Organized Structure
Many, Many supplements that I have come across have fairly poor organization. This isn’t something that is terribly obvious at first, but the more you interact with it, the less it feels natural. You’re constantly shifting back and forth between pages, referring to sections that are further in the book, or trying to cut back to find significant information in past chapters. These types of references, especially in a reference book can’t be avoided, but they can, through a well thought out structure and considerate organization, be minimized. I think The GTR does this extremely well.
Most setting supplements start with the history and information regarding the location or world, and then move on to how the characters fit into that world with character creation and options, finally settling in with enemies and items at the end. GTR Cleverly switches up the pacing of the supplement. The very first thing it does is introduce you to the setting, but it is very quick and easy – 4 pages of basic and simple information to get your feet wet and keep you hungry for more information regarding the things you like. It guides you into what the setting is going to give you without you being required to delve deeply into ponderous history and complicated details that you’re unlikely to care for or be able to fully comprehend at this level of involvement. It does give a very brief overview of the choices you’ll be making later, and its in such a way that it begs you to latch onto a single topic, in this case a guild, in order to focus your energy as you read on. Its a big book (250+ pages) So this is a great method of making sure the reader focuses on the information that they find the most pertinent later on in the book.
The book then moves on to character creation, introducing options for a Ravnican setting, including information on choosing a guild, new races, and guild based guidelines. This continues to hone the reader’s awareness for the information they seek while also providing them an even deeper look into their chosen vantage point.
What this does is hook the reader, or potential player, into the book with the specific intent of focusing their reading on the parts that they enjoy the most for the rest of the book – When You’ve read a small description of the guilds, found one or two that caught your eye, and then read what type of characters those guilds typically support, finally deciding on what type of character you’d like to play, it gives a fantastic perspective for reading the rest of the book, which only now starts to get into really strong setting and history information.
Following up on character creation, we go into detail on the guilds, delving into specific backgrounds and character motivations, as well as the unique Guild Spells option that the setting introduces. Most people and this is a good design, in my opinion, are likely to skip right to the guild that interests them the most and fill out any character ideas that they might have from the first two sections.
Only now, once a character has been created and the ideas set into their mind about what guild they are a part of and what character they might like to create, is the setting given a pretty detailed rundown. The book then moves on to adventure hooks and ideas, breaking them out by guild, again, which maintains through the Magic Item and Monsters sections. Keeping the whole book divided by guilds makes reading, learning and keeping engaged with the setting work extremely well, and many players are going to know a lot about there guild, while knowing significantly less about the other guilds. This is a great out of game way to structure in game knowledge, and I love it.
The Slow Burn
This concept builds on the excellent organization of the book, one that actually defies a number of standard organizations where all like-based information is grouped together, instead of based on in game clusters that feel more natural.
The GTR provides players with a fairly large amount of setting information, but in a very digestible, easy way. While many books have a vast, monolithic structure for their history and information, in this book we have it strung along in a measured pace that builds upon the previous information and creates a strong, almost narrative, approach to the information that is genuinely and interestingly applied. Each guild has 7 sections in the book, and each of those sections details the guild more thoroughly and completely without inundating the reader with massive, seemingly trivial or boring sections clumped together in a single, avoidable Chapter.
you get a Guild Blurb, Classes by Guild, Guild Overview, Guild Characters Guild Spells, Guild Background, how each guild considers the other, the Guildhall, Guild Items, and Guild creatures and NPC’s.
I found the Guild-based presentation to be an excellent method of both providing information to the reader and as a way to selectively convey information as extremely effective, and I honestly think that this type of format is one that should be repeated in other supplements in order to correctly convey the setting. It lets characters and players alike become absorbed into the facets of the setting they like while preventing them from wasting time on the portions of the setting that they have no interest in. If a character likes elves, they often have only a single, or maybe a few small, section to read to get their information. Providing it as they move along through the book just feels better.
This book is going to be the template I follow when creating my own setting book (one day) and I think I could do much, much worse than to copy the most enjoyable setting book I’ve ever read.
I know I gushed a lot on how this book is built, but as a DM of 20+ years, it feels like I’ve finally found a setting format that makes sense and doesn’t feel like you’re reading a dull history book about a game that you might play once a week or less. It was a very exciting read.
Until next time,